Who Lost Turkey?

Two main explanations are circulating that address this now-burning question:

Blame the European Union: U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates says that if Turkey is, as he delicately puts it, “moving eastward,” this resulted “in no small part because it was pushed, and pushed by some in Europe refusing to give Turkey the kind of organic link to the West that Turkey sought.”

Blame Islam: A reader of mine argues that the Atatürk revolution, now nearly 90 years old, “had all the ingredients of success (Westernization, modernity, secularism, democracy, economic growth) — and these were not imposed from without, but came organically from within. That the Atatürkist experiment is rapidly failing points to the futility of trying to modernize Islam.”

I reject these explanations (Turkey hardly met Western snubs; and its turn to Islamism is a solitary case, not proof of anything about Islam). Instead, I offer a third explanation:

Blame the accidents of history: (1) Turkish regulations require that a party receive a minimum of 10 percent of the votes cast to enter parliament. (2) The secular political elite in the 1990s fractured into many small parties whose self-absorbed leaders refused to join forces.

Keep these two factors in mind, then look at the results of the decisive 2002 elections and weep:


Center-right and center-left parties excluded from parliament had 9.5, 8.3, 7.2, 6.2 and 5.1 percent of the vote, amounting to 36.3 percent in all. Add their percentages to the CHP’s 19.4 and they controlled 55.7 percent of the chamber. Had the gaggle of selfish party tyrants combined efforts, they all would have been represented in parliament and secularists would likely still be running the show.

Comment: This disagreement has major implications. If either of the first two explanations is correct, Turkey is lost for good. But if mine is correct, Turkey’s going Islamist resulted from an accident of personalities and regulations which can be undone. The country can return from the abyss. We who appreciate the Turkey of old must not give up on the country but work to bring it back by pressuring it carefully while working with Turkish allies.

Daniel Pipes — Daniel Pipes is president of the Middle East Forum. A former official in the U.S. departments of State and Defense, he has taught history at Chicago, Harvard, and Pepperdine universities, ...

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